Published On: Tue, Jan 28th, 2014

Olympic Heights High Zerorobotics Team Recognized at MIT

BRT Olympic HeightsBy Bito David                                                                                                  

Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition where the robots are SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) inside the International Space Station.

The competition starts online where teams from across the United States and Europe program the SPHERES satellite to solve an annual challenge. After several phases of virtual competition in a simulation environment that mimics the real SPHERES, finalists are selected to compete in a live championship aboard the ISS.

In the first semester of the 2013-2014 school year, the Olympic Heights ZeroRobotics team signed up for this after-school virtual challenge. The game is motivated by a current problem of interest to NASA and MIT- the possibility of a comet striking the earth!  Student software controls satellite speed, rotation, direction of travel, etc.

Depending on the game premise, the students must program their satellites to complete game objectives while conserving resources, and staying within specified time and code-size limits.  The programs are “autonomous” – that is, the students cannot control the satellites during the test itself.

Almost 200 teams from around the United States and Europe went through many rounds of elimination, and the top teams, including Olympic Heights, travelled to MIT from Jan. 16 to 18 to take part in the final round. Olympic Heights was the only Palm Beach County School invited to participate in this final round. 

The team members who attended were Joseph Landry, Sarah Curtis, Ryan Dingman, and Shayna Soares, mentored by engineering teacher Nimmi Arunachalam. Other members of the team are Jerry Zuili, Jake Rice, Julia Grober and Charles McGuire. The team was also mentored by parent volunteer, Patrick Zuili.

At the finals on Jan. 17, teams were able to submit their code and watch via a live feed two astronauts run their computer programs aboard the International Space Station. Teams were also invited to send a representative for an interview session, to discuss game strategies employed. Olympic Heights senior Joseph Landry spoke about OH’s team, called Pride of Boca, in front of an audience containing four space shuttle astronauts, Hollywood director Gavin Hood and Visual Effects Supervisor Matthew Butler, and hundreds of students and parents. He was also broadcast live on the web throughout the world as well as to the International Space Station. Additionally, the OH students met the astronauts and the director, took a tour of MIT, and explored MIT’s research facilities and labs.

“It was an amazing experience,” said junior Sarah Curtis. “Participating in this incredible conference really reinforced my love of engineering.” Great job Olympic Heights!

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